I recently read an article by Shai Linne about Christian rap, and it was really good. Seriously, I thought it made amazing points, and I highly recommend check it out.
If you don’t read it, though, the point he’s making is that we, as Christians, are so quick to latch onto any celebrity that uses God’s name once because “HE’S CHRISTIAN!!!!! OUR HOPES AND DREAMS HAVE COME TO FRUITION!”
And in essence, this is just us mirroring the Israelites all those thousands of years ago, asking God for a king.
Again, it was a great article.
But it really made me start to think about the Christian music industry as it is today.
Here’s a bit of my background with music. Age 0-12 I pretty much exclusively listened to WOW hits, and then WOW hits for kids. Still love that 90’s worship to this day. From 12-16 I pretty much exclusively listened to Christian pop/rock. Skillet, TFK, Krystal Meyers (still one of my favourites, actually), BarlowGirl, Relient K, the classics. You name it, I had all the albums.
Age 16 is when I started really learning how to play guitar. It became my love. And as I was trying to find songs to play on guitar and piano that were really fun to learn and had real musicality behind them, I simply didn’t find a lot with the Christian artists that everyone was listening to. I generally could learn to play any song in an hour tops, found they didn’t require a ton of skill, and once you learned one, you kind of learned them all.
I wanted something that would really challenge me musically. So I started listening to secular music. Rock music was a big one for me. My guitar teacher and dad introduced me to classic rock artists and I’ve been hooked ever since. The sheer skill it takes to play those songs blows me away every time. And I’ve been trying to learn some riffs for 4 years and I still don’t have them.
That’s a far cry from being able to play a song in one afternoon when I had only been playing guitar for a year and a half.
So since I was 16, the only Christian music I’ve listened to (other than worship music–we’re not talking about worship music here, just pop/rock/punk rock/etc) is my old Krystal Meyers albums, because her music has so many emotional ties for me. (Plus, I just genuinely like her sound.)
I think that in general, as Christian artists, we have forgotten a part of our call.
Obviously the first priority in anything we do is always to point people towards Jesus. Doesn’t matter how great or how terrible your music is. If it’s not pointing people to Jesus, you’ve missed something. And I’m not saying it needs to be explicitly Christian in terms of lyrics–anyone who’s listened to classical music can attest to that. But that’s not usually where Christian artists slip up. Usually they’re really good at pointing people to Jesus through their lyrics. But often it becomes so “Christian” that it doesn’t seem real anymore.
I’m talking about this from a Christian artist’s perspective, too. Christian authors/bloggers have the same problem. Many of the people I follow and the fiction books I read aren’t Christian, because I find them much more relatable without the “Jesus shield” that a lot of Christians have. If you talk about God enough, you never have to talk about your own struggles, or admit that everything isn’t perfect. But that’s a post for another day.
But often where we go wrong in the Christian arts world is that we focus so much on the message that we sacrifice quality.
In my opinion, as soon as you slap the “Christian” label on something everyone’s threshold for quality drops by a significant amount. Just look at a lot of Christian movies if you don’t believe me when it comes to music. This is a big problem in our area of the arts world.
But the fact of the matter is that most Christian music that’s popular today would not be popular in the competitive secular market. I’ve heard time and time again, “Hey, that’s good music for a Christian artist.” And that makes me so frustrated. It’s as if we’ve started to use the “Christian” label as a short-cut, because we know we can get away with creating lower quality products because Christians will buy it simply because of that label.
I just don’t understand why we should settle for lower quality when, in reality, we should have better quality music because it’s inspired by God. God is the ultimate creator, so shouldn’t we have something extra than what non-Christian artists, since we’re more in tune with His Spirit?
Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone,to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
I think this is where our problem lies. We’re good at slapping the Christian label on things. We’ve got that down. What we’re struggling with is understanding how to become applicable to the world without losing our gospel message.
I would love to see Christian artists who proclaimed a gospel message who were actually popular not only among Christians, but also the rest of the world simply because their music was so dang good you couldn’t ignore it. But the way that the industry is now, I just don’t see that happening.
I’m not saying become one with the secular world–not at all. I’m just saying, in terms of skill, musicality, and the expectations we have on the quality of music we produce, let’s get on their level. Because let’s face it–they’re doing better than we are in those areas.
I also want to make it clear that I think that publishing/production industries are also at fault here.
I’m not trying to pin everything on the artist. An artist can only do so much if no one will sign them, and record companies are unwilling to sign “risky” artists, because the market is so small. Instead, they go for “safe” options, the ones with that distinct “Christian” sound. This creates a really bland music market. No one’s allowed to take risks.
This is a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg kind of situation for me. Was there always just a smaller market, which led record companies to only take “safe” options in an attempt to appeal to the most people in that market? Or did companies signing only distinctly “Christian” (in terms of musical genre) artists lead to the market shrinking? I have no idea, personally.
So I guess the question becomes, how do we support indie Christian artists who are really in it for the music? And that’s honestly a question–I want your opinion. Because I’m not sure how to find them, where to look, or anything like that. But I want to see the Christian music industry really find its legs–and I think that’s very possible, because there are some crazily talented Christian artists out there, I just know it. We just need to be better at finding them.
So now it’s time for you to tell me what you think. Do you like the Christian music industry right now? How can we support Christian artists who are willing to take risks? Are there any up-and-coming artists who are really quite amazing, and you think deserve more credit? Tell me in the comments and we can chat about it!
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DISCLAIMERS: (before you yell at me in the comments, read these 😉 )
Christian music is an important industry, and it’s doing great things for so many people. This isn’t meant to bash what’s currently happening. This is meant to be a call to action for artists to start branching out for some of us who listen to music for more than just the message. The message is obviously of upmost importance, but I firmly believe the artistry is also important. Someone told me, when talking about creating Christian art, “Because we’re doing it from God, we should have access to even more inspiration [than the secular world] because we’re communing with the Creator — the ultimate artist.” Completely agree.
If you listen to Christian music and enjoy it, awesome! I’m honestly, completely happy for you, and you keep supporting those musicians! 🙂 Also, I have a blog post about study playlists that include all Christian music if you want to check that out!
What I’m saying here does not apply to every single Christian artist, and I know that. I also have almost no knowledge about the Christian rap world, so I’d love to know if it’s the same or different over there! But while there are always people who are the exception, I do think that the general rule applies here.